A lot of four letter words were going through my mind during the last half of the 2011 Chicago Marathon. But the one word that I included in my post-race Facebook status update was OUCH!!!!
Pain was my anti-mantra and it was worse than the heat (another four letter word for marathoners!). I know that I should have dropped out when the ITB, hip and piriformis pain became almost unbearable, but I wanted my darn medal! I flew all the way to Chicago, spent more than $150 on the race entry fee and couldn't imagine leaving empty-handed. Of course, in retrospect, that's pure stupidity, but when you're running a marathon in 65-75 degree heat, your mind isn't all there.
So I vow today that I'll be designing a new medal for dropping out / DNF. Anyone in the program who makes the wise decision to cut a bad race short, will get one. Dropping out is NOT quitting -- It's saving yourself for the next race!
I took a RRCA course for coaching certification and one of the instructors who tried to emphasize going out slow for long runs said, "We don't give out medals for winning training." Well, maybe we should! Because you might end up hitting all your goals in workouts, train smart, yet still have a bad race.
If you do finish and have a "bad" race, one that falls short of your initial goal, give yourself time to mourn the loss of the "perfect race." I've already gone through most of the 5 stages of grief myself, both during and after the race (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).
Runner's World also has a great article on the five stages of getting over a bad race experience - and how to run better next time.
2. Find a Positive
3. Analyze It
4. Set New Goals
5. Manage Expectations
I'm still trying to process everything that happened on October 9, but here are some lessons learned from Chicago:
1. Before you go to your race, make an appointment with your physical therapist or massage therapist for after the race. (I made the mistake of not scheduling an appointment in advance and had to wait a week to get one.)
2. Pouring water over your head really does keep you cool! (The heat in Chicago didn't bother me until the last 2 miles because I religiously poured 2-4 cups of water on my head at every water stop. It was so refreshing!)
3. Carrying a bottle of Gatorade for the first 5 miles kept me well hydrated and didn't slow me down.
4. Focus on the positive!
Even though I fell short of my goal by A LOT, I did run faster than 11 of my 14 previous marathons, so my 4th fastest time is something to be proud of, I suppose.
My first half was my best in any marathon and felt easy and relaxed. I did remind myself every mile when things were going well that I have come a long way in the past year and every mile without pain and feeling strong was a gift. My 25K and 30K times were also decent. My time slowed dramatically when I made the decision to do the least amount of work possible so that I wouldn't damage myself any further. I have more confidence now that next time, if I can stay pain-free, I might achieve my goal.
The marathon is a very humbling event. You can have amazing races at shorter distances, consistent training, and still have an off day. It's OK and even expected to be depressed, so allow yourself that, but then focus on learning from the experience.
"You can't become a winner overnight, or even in a couple of years - it takes time... You will lose races and you will have to accept that, learn from it and believe that you'll win the next one, knowing that you'll probably lose that as well. All the time you have to keep believing that one day you will win." - Paula Radcliffe